1st-Time Individual Champs, Perennial Team Powers Rule UP Girls Finals

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

October 23, 2021

MARQUETTE — Houghton and Hancock often see each other during the course of a cross country season.

It was a happy ending for the girls teams from both schools as they were crowned champions during the Upper Peninsula Finals here Saturday.

Houghton retained its Division 1 title with 52 points, followed by Marquette with 69, Negaunee 83 and Sault Ste. Marie 99.

Hancock won Division 2 for the third time in four years with 43 points, followed by Ishpeming with 54 and Ironwood 72.

“This was our best performance all year,” said Hancock coach Jennifer Smith. “The girls peaked today, which is exactly what they needed to do. We were runners-up by one point to St. Ignace last year and really wanted to take (the title) back. We needed everybody at the top of her game.

“I hope the girls continue to run. I also hope the middle school runners keep running, too.”

Ishpeming cross countryIn Division 1, Houghton senior Ingrid Seagren earned her first individual title, covering the 3.1-mile course at Gentz’s Homestead Golf Course in Chocolay Township in 20 minutes, 51.7 seconds. She was followed by Sault Ste. Marie junior Cassandra Gallagher (21:05.8) and Houghton junior Claire Filpus (21:11.2).

“This has been my goal for a long time,” said Seagren. “There was a lot of pressure on us to win again, and we pushed each other real hard all year. I’m super proud of Paige (Sleeman) and Claire. You always want to peak for this race, but it’s really hard.”

Houghton senior and 2020 individual champion Paige Sleeman finished eighth this time (21:23.3), marking the fifth straight Finals she placed in the top 10 and was part of a U.P. championship team.

“It’s exciting and unbelievable,” said Sleeman, who was part of three championship teams at Chassell and now two at Houghton. “I never thought I’d be part of this many U.P. championship teams. I just developed a run for this sport, and the girls I ran with are amazing. Ingrid ran great. I knew it was going to be close race among the top four teams. For me, I just wanted to get the team win.”

Houghton coach Traci Welch had similar thoughts.

“They really wanted to give it their all,” she said. “Paige battled some illness, and she just went out and did what she needed to do. Claire missed last year (due to COVID), but now she’s healthy and very motivated. Our fourth and fifth runners (freshman Kiira Niska and junior Jewel Laux) were so important to the team. Jewel had COVID and came back and did great. All the teams ran hard. It boiled down to who had the best race today.”

Ishpeming sophomore Lola Korpi gained her first U.P. title in a season-best 20:04.9 to win Division 2. She was followed by Ironwood freshman Aubrey Smith (21:41.1) and Gogebic (Bessemer) junior Natalie Stone (21:56.8).

“I just gave it my all because it was the last race this year,” said Korpi. “I’m a little surprised by the margin of victory. The Ironwood girl is a good runner. We got two more runners at the last minute and we’re just so happy about that. I’m so proud of them for coming out of their comfort zone.”

Munising, which placed four in the top 10, repeated as Division 3 champion with 31 points, followed by Dollar Bay with 71 and Eben Junction Superior Central with 99.

Newberry cross country“It’s exciting to win it again,” said senior Jenna Matson, who placed sixth (22:43.2). “That wasn’t one of my better times, although we won as a team which is all that matters. We’re a pretty tight group. I was shooting for under 22, but I’m okay with that.

“Our No. 5 runner (freshman Kate Mattson) didn’t place, yet we wouldn’t have won if it wasn’t for her. I felt there was a little more pressure on us this time, but our coach (Mark Kinnunen) kept us together and got what we needed.”

Newberry sophomore Kaylen Clark won her first Finals championship at 20:50.4. She was followed by Rock Mid Peninsula senior Landry Koski (21:37.9) and Munising junior Monique Brisson (21:51).

“The course was more challenging than I expected,” said Clark. “We had one hill before you turn into the last stretch that was real challenging. I had to go out strong because I knew the Mid Pen girl was a good runner, and she had a great race. This was a good showing for our team.”

Koski, who won on this course as a sophomore two years ago, was happy with her runner-up finish.

“I knew coming in the Newberry girl was fast,” she said. “She took off real fast. I knew after the first mile I wasn’t going to be able to catch her. I didn’t know what to expect from her because I hadn’t run against her all season.”

Brisson said her strategy was to keep up with Koski.

“Landry is a very strong runner,” she added. “Kaylen ran a real good race. I was surprised by her time.

“We’re all friends. It’s friendly competition. I’m real happy for Landry with this being her senior year. I’m so proud of our team. Jenna pushed me real hard all year.”

Click for full results: Division 1 | Division 2 | Division 3.

PHOTOS (Top) Houghton's Claire Filpus (91), Ingrid Seagren (95), and Paige Sleeman (97) pull into the lead near the start of the Division 1 race. (Middle) Ishpeming’s Lola Korpi sets the pace for the lead pack during the Division 2 Final. (Below) Newberry’s Kaylen Clark builds her lead on the way to winning the Division 3 championship. (Photos by Cara Kamps. Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)


Grand Rapids Speedsters Dominate Division 2 Girls Cross Country Final

November 4, 2023

BROOKLYN — Emily Tomes of Grand Rapids Catholic Central might be the first MHSAA cross country champion to go all season without winning a meet until it mattered the most.

There are two good reasons for that.

First, she runs in the Grand Rapids area, which is a hotbed for high school cross country. Her biggest league rival, Selma Anderson of Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, was the runner-up in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final on Saturday.

Second, she was adjusting all season to a significant change in her training volume.

Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish.As a result, she had five second-place finishes in nine races and didn’t run faster than 18:25.5 until her conference and Regional meets.

“I ramped up my miles, so my legs felt tired for a lot of my races,” Tomes said. “So, that’s why I recently started running sub-18. My legs started to get used to the mileage. I was just trying to wait until this meet. This is when I was going to try to run my best.”

Tomes was the Division 2 champion, running a time of 17:31.4 on a Michigan International Speedway course that yielded fast times all day.

She won a kick down the stretch against St. Joseph senior Gail Vaikutis, who took second in 17:33.6.

“I feel like I do rely on my kick quite a bit, but I just knew it could help me pass those girls and it gives me a lot of confidence moving forward, ” Tomes said. “I have a couple postseason meets, so I’m really looking forward to those.”

It was anyone’s race when a pack of five runners reached the two-mile mark within one second of one another. It was a two-runner race coming down the straightaway, with Tomes passing Vaikutis in the final tenth of a mile.

“I don’t normally run in packs,” Tomes said. “This season kind of started off slower for me, so I wasn’t used to racing with these girls. I know they know how to run really fast. If I could just let them carry me along, it would help me out.”

Grand Rapids Christian won the team championship with a score of 112 points. Last season’s champion Otsego was second with 131.

The Eagles won their seventh MHSAA championship and first since 2014.

Senior Natalie VanOtteren, who defeated Tomes by 17 seconds at Regionals, led Grand Rapids Christian by placing fifth in 17:58.2. Sophomore Lilah Poel was 20th, sophomore Ellie Scholma 30th, senior Payton Holtz 31st and senior Naomi Nelson 65th for the Eagles.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Emily Tomes, left, breaks away from St. Joseph's Gail Vaikutis during the closing stretch of the Division 2 Final. (Middle) Natalie VanOtteren leads Grand Rapids Christian's team title run with a fifth-place finish. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)